For agencies and service-based organizations, cash flow is oxygen.

And as an agency leader, that means new business acquisition and lead generation is the oxygen supply. The problem is, it’s getting harder to generate the attention of decision makers. Especially in those “dream client” organizations.

You’re not alone. According to B2B Marketing Community, the biggest challenge for 61% of B2B marketers is generating high quality leads.

So, how can you build a system that generates new business on a consistent basis? What approaches and strategies can you test and implement in your agency to ensure you’re growing while putting your best ideas forward?

In the guide, we’ll take a deep dive into what it takes to generate new business in 2017 and beyond.

Building a new business strategy

Without a roadmap, your new business efforts will fail.

Before you begin executing the approaches we’ll be talking about in this article, you must create a strategy that takes your goals into account. As this infographic by ReviMedia illustrates, the top challenge for most businesses is quality over quantity of new business leads: ReviMedia infographic

Roadmapping your strategy will help you to reach your main goal and engage your target audience. Thankfully, there’s a treasure trove of data and insight available for you to define them.

Use data to define your ideal client

Whether you’re an agency director, marketing executive or sales leader – data is key when directing your strategy.

In order to properly identify your ideal client, you must adopt two different approaches:

  1. Qualitative data using customer development & research principles
  2. Quantitative data from market insights

Qualitative data can come from the assets you already have. For example, you could email a survey to your existing subscriber base or audience. Ask them what challenges they’re currently trying to overcome. Uncover as much information as possible to truly understand their challenges.

Here are some sample questions you can include in your survey. (The [proposition] cue is where you would add context around what you provide. For example, if you’re an SEO agency, you might ask them about their biggest marketing challenges.)

  • What are the biggest challenges for [proposition]?
  • What approaches have you used to reach your [proposition] goals?
  • Have you used an agency or consultant to help you overcome these challenges? If so, how did they help?
  • What industry publications and blogs do you read most often?
  • Who are the thought leaders that make the biggest impact in your business?

Take a more personal approach when talking with current clients. Get on the phone and get this information from them. Ask them similar questions, but go deeper. Understanding the motivation behind solving these challenges will help you later.

Qualitative data can add context to quantitative data. This insight helps define your personas and focus your new business acquisition efforts.

Quantitative data includes:

  • Demographic data: Where do they live? Are they married? Do they have children?
  • Purchase data: What are your customers already buying?
  • Social behavior: How do they behave on social media? Which brands and thought leaders do they follow?
  • Financial data: What’s their annual income?

Quantitative data will contribute your personas. Collecting this data will help direct your marketing and new business efforts in the right places.

For example, understanding which publications they read will direct where to place your content. PR efforts will be more focused and you’ll see better results.

By understanding these challenges, you can create content and a marketing messaging that makes them think “ah, this person gets me”.

Identify potential partners

It may seem counter-intuitive to seek the help from other agencies.

But this can be one of the best sources of new clients. Mutually beneficial relationships are very lucrative when you’re not offering competing services.

For example, you may be an advertising agency focusing on B2C tech companies. You could identify potential partners by running a Google search for queries such as:

  • b2c marketing agency
  • b2c design agency
  • consumer marketing consulting (focus on the demographic of the client)
  • spotify marketing agency (find agencies with similar, high profile clients)

From the last example alone, I’ve identified one potential partner for a business development approach: leads google search example Make a list of these agencies and take note of the following information in a spreadsheet:

  • Company Name
  • Website
  • Largest Clients
  • Contact Name
  • Contact Email

When looking for the right contact to reach out to, start with business development roles. If there isn’t one, look for a founder, director, sales or marketing leader.

Many agencies will include executive email addresses in their About or Contact pages. When an email address isn’t obvious, identify them on LinkedIn with the Hunter plugin: Leads Hunter exNow you have an overview of the market landscape, insight on your client and their audience and potential partners in your space. It’s time to set some goals.

Define goals and KPIs based on inputs

You can’t grow if you don’t know where you’re going. Focus your acquisition efforts by setting specific goals.

Define your metrics under two categories:

  1. Your main goal: this will be your true north
  2. KPIs: these will measure inputs that contribute to your main goal

Your main goal may be an increase in clients or annual revenue. These are the two most common. Revenue may be growing steadily, and you’d now like to work for “dream clients”  in the Fortune 500. Your main goal, then, may be to engage with them until they become a client.

Whatever your goal, make sure it is clearly defined and everyone in your organization understands it.

KPIs, on the other hand, are measured against activities that get you closer to that goal. They should be focused on inputs instead of results. This provides a better environment for your teams to work together. When you measure your team on inputs it’s far easier to motivate and optimize your approach for better results.

Example KPIs include:

  • Cold emails sent
  • Cold calls made
  • Appointments set
  • Proposals sent
  • Referrals generated
  • No. articles created

You can measure these on a weekly or monthly basis, depending on the nature of the activity.

Create a system to track your goal & KPIs on a weekly and monthly basis. Review them regularly to decide on what needs more attention, what’s working and what isn’t.

Now it’s time to work towards these goals. The approaches outlined in this guide are activities we recommend you focus on in 2017 and beyond.

Scaling and growing your referral system

Let’s face it – the majority of your new business likely comes from referrals.

According to a study by Fuel Lines, 50% of ad agencies attribute new business to two primary sources: networks and referrals.

It’s a top marketing initiative for most professional service businesses. So why aren’t you getting more of them?

Hinge Marketing found that 72% of professional service firms weren’t asking their current clients for referrals. In other words, you’re not doing anything about it.

By taking initiative you’ll already be maximizing your results. It’s time to build a referral system. Here’s how:

Create a killer incentive

People are far more likely to take action if they’re incentivized to do so.

It’s something the retail and ecommerce industries have been doing for years. Invite a friend and get free product/percentage off your next order. You can apply this to your new business acquisition efforts.

In a recent study on the topic, Robert Davis and Ivan Misner found that incentives were “one of the most important methods for generating referrals.”

Get creative with incentives. Offer them on a personal level, tailored to specific clients or partners. For example, gift concert tickets to live music aficionados.

You can also incentivize by offering your services. For example, if you’re in the online ad business, you can offer to set up a new campaign for free in exchange for referrals.

The right model for you will depend on your business. Find out what your clients care about, then cater to their needs.

Build a referral network

Your network of personal connections is also an asset. And like all assets, it can be optimized. In the case of close associates, incentivizing them may be a matter of “scratching each other’s’ backs.” Having access to a client base they would love to get in front of can be a great foundation. Perhaps you’ve worked on your personal brand and speak at events. A bit of name-dropping can go a long way in exchange for introductions. Drive the conversation with what you can do for them. Show you’re willing to give before asking for anything in return. This will start the conversation on good footing – important no matter how well you know them.

Make it a regular practice

Waiting for referrals to come to you is like waiting for customers to buy from you without marketing. It’s not going to happen.

Therefore, you need to make referral generation a regular practice. Ask clients for referrals at the right time.

This will look different depending on your business. The best time to do so is after you’ve delivered outstanding results. A happy client is one that will recommend you.

Make this a system by adding reminders. Set them 3 to 6 months after clients start working with you. During this time, you must keep as much information on their interests as possible. This will allow you to customize incentives for them.

Create 10x content to boost awareness

New business acquisition typically comes from your outbound efforts.

However, we’re living in an inbound world. If you don’t have a long-term content strategy, you may fall behind when generating business in the future.

You’re probably already aware of the importance of content marketing. You may have even written some blog posts without much success. Sound familiar? Then this approach is for you.

To really capture the attention of your audience, consider creating 10x content.

This is content that is 10 times better than anything else out there. It’s practical, actionable and leaves the reader with something they can execute upon.

This approach doesn’t rely on what you think your audience wants. It focuses on market and competitive research to create something truly valuable. Here’s how you can get started.

Market research for the right topics

Don’t write about topics you think are interesting. Instead, look at what the market and your personas are already talking about.

Start by brainstorming some broad keywords to begin your search with, e.g. “seo,” “influencer marketing” and “facebook ads.”

Using those keywords, search Google for top trends and challenges. You’ll likely find several articles on the topic, e.g. “Top 10 SEO Trends for 2017.” Note these down.

Look for patterns. If your personas are interested in “facebook marketing trends,” search for content on the topic. In this example, you’ll see a lot of content on chatbots. This gives you a specific topic to work from.

Expand your search beyond Google. Search popular business and industry publications, such as Forbes and AdWeek. These are great sources for topic ideas, as they often touch lightly on topics without going into how to do those things.

BuzzSumo is another tool to find popular content on certain topics. For example, a search for “facebook chatbots” generates the following results: Leads Buzzsumo example This shows you the most shared articles on a certain topic. Now we know what gets shared and what ranks well. This gives you insight into how to make it better.

Uncover what the competition is doing

Now you understand which topics people are interested in. You also know the highest performing article or post for that topic.

Now it’s time to create something better than all of them.

Search for your target keyword on Google and make a note of the top 5 results in an Excel spreadsheet. Now do the same on BuzzSumo and make a note of the 5 most shared articles.

When doing this, make sure you ignore any press-release style articles. Identify articles that provide practical value. For our Facebook Chatbot example, our spreadsheet looks like this: Leads spreadsheet example

The purpose of 10x content is to create something better than anything else out there on a specific topic. So look at the top results and look for gaps within the content.

Ask yourself: is the design and overall experience poor? Are the articles short, providing shallow information? Take a note of what could be better. You’ll need it for the next step.

Creating 10x content

The most shared and highest converting content gives huge amounts of practical, actionable advice. Your content must do the same. Now you’ve identified gaps in existing content, you can fill them.

For example, if the highest performing articles are 2,000 words long, you can double or triple it in order to add more value. Word count can be a good measurement of the value you can deliver.

Perhaps the best content is poorly designed and lacks anecdotes, stats or social proof. You can ensure you content is better positioned by focusing on a good layout while including statistics and stories from brands and people who have achieved what you are teaching.

Chris Gimmer, founder of BootstrapBay, found an opportunity for his own 10x content. He noticed people in his audience were going crazy for an article on Medium that aggregated free stock photography sites: Leads bootstrap example Leads Bootstrap example 2

It’s a great list, but Chris knew he could create something far better. So he created an expanded post that added the following elements:

  • A full introduction
  • Described different licenses, e.g. creative commons, and indicated which sites used which
  • A brief description of each site
  • Examples of photography from each resource
  • A better, more curated list

The result? Over 2,000 visits from Reddit marketing in a day and consistent rankings on Google.

This is just one example, but you can see how simple it is to outperform content competition in this way.

Once you’ve created something you’re proud of, it’s time to get people to read it.

Promote it!

Most people publish a blog post and expect visitors to magically appear. Only to be greeted by crickets.

Content promotion is the last piece of the puzzle. It ensures you capture an audience and generate more leads as a result.

Start with your owned audience. Your clients, email list and social media following is a great start. Send out an email to existing blog subscribers. Let your clients know you’ve just published a new piece and ask them to spread the word. Schedule several social media posts over the course of a week or two to keep up the buzz.

Identify people who have shared similar pieces of content (using the spreadsheet you used earlier). Reach out to them with an email to seek feedback. Ask them if they’d share it to their audience once you have a conversation going.

Online communities, such as LinkedIn Groups and forums, are also reliable promotion channels. Identify communities that are rich in your target audience. Get involved with the conversation first before promoting anything. Aim to deliver value up front instead of simply spamming them with your content.

Finally, if you find a particular piece of content is performing well, test paid promotion. Use Facebook and Twitter Ads to distribute your content to a wider audience. Be sure to test on a small scale first and scale up as you see results.

If you just start on these areas, you’re already setting your content up for success. To summarize, 10x content relies on three things:

  1. Analyzing the market to see what’s out there
  2. Creating something better
  3. Promoting it to your audience like crazy

Do this and you’ll begin to see better results from your agency content marketing efforts.

7 lead generation experiments

The above strategies are high on the list for many agency leaders this year.

However, you may want to keep an open mind and test new approaches. Referrals are key, but content marketing isn’t for everyone.

So we’ve put together 7 new business acquisition tactics for you to test in house. They’re simple and easy to implement, and you can test them with your current in-house resources.

#1 Cold email in 2017

Many believe that cold email is dead. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The problem is usually the message – not the medium.

Cold email works as long as you know your audience inside-out. Remember the roadmap you created? You should understand their challenges and what makes them tick.

The best cold email messages do two things well:

  1. Focuses on a hyper-targeted audience (e.g. marketing directors at fintech organizations)
  2. Understands the challenges that keeps them, specifically, up at night

The second is the most important. Many people focus their messaging on the same objectives (e.g. “generate more leads” or “get more customers”). Instead, what is the specific challenge you solve?

Is it increasing traffic from buyer-intent keywords? Perhaps you help build connections with c-suite executives in target accounts? Whatever it is, get clear on it.

Finally, don’t be afraid to act against convention. They say short emails are best. But some executives need as much information as possible to decide if they want to talk to you. If this is your audience, don’t be afraid to make your emails longer.

#2 Influencer marketing

This has become a popular buzzword over the last couple of years, and for good reason.

Connecting with industry influencers can be a game changer. Referrals from thought leaders, or a mention in their content, can give you much well-needed attention.

The challenge is getting their attention in the first place. As influencers have become more “in-demand,” many business leaders have taken to reaching out and asking them for something.

As a result, influencer marketing has become a long game. In order to build relationships with prominent leaders, you need to work “up the chain.”

This means connecting with thought leaders with a similar sized audience sizes as you first. By doing this you increase industry awareness of your brand, making sought-after influencers more accessible.

To identify these influencers, use a tool like BuzzSumo or Traackr. Search for keywords related to your industry and find those with a similar following as yours.

A beauty brand can partner with popular travel bloggers to get their message to a wider audience. Do the same for your agency by targeting influencers in adjacent markets.

Reverse engineer this approach by starting with your audience. Find out what publications and brands they follow. Look for organizations (not just other agencies) that create interesting content. You might uncover influencers with engaged audiences that have yet to be tapped into.

Engage with them before asking them for something. There are several ways to do this:

  • Tweet @ them
  • Comment on their content
  • Share their content
  • Join in on community conversation

The idea is to add value up front. Then you can approach them via email. How you do this depends on your objective. For example, you can get them involved in your content creation efforts, or simply ask them to share your own.

Whatever you do, always highlight what’s in it for them. You must answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”

#3 Joint ventures

Partners can be a great source of new clients. As part of your roadmapping, you should already have identified some you’d like to work with. But how do you approach them?

Take the influencer marketing approach: engage first. See what you can do for them, whether that’s sharing their content or even referring them to a client of yours.

Generating new leads for them before a conversation begins will put you on their radar. They’ll see the value in a long-term relationship and be more likely to open up a dialog with you.

New business acquisition is just one potential objective. Joint ventures can also be used for:

  • Co-marketing efforts
  • Co-branded content (ebooks, webinars etc.)
  • Event marketing

Adding value up front makes starting a relationship much easier. Not only will you be on their radar, but the law of reciprocity will also be in effect.

#4 Workshops & events

Getting the attention of potential clients is far easier when you’re in front of them.

For many agencies, running events and workshops that highlights their expertise is a great source of new business.

This is exactly what brand experience agency Bright does. They don’t wait for clients to come to them. They set up workshops in spaces where their ideal prospects can be found. Bright agency

As a result, they connect with marketing and brand leaders from global consumer and tech brands. By showing them the benefits of what they do in a practical and applicable manner, half the work is already done.

Turn your methodology or expertise into an educational workshop or lecture. Partner with those who already have access to your ideal prospects to get that content in front of the right audience.

#5 Guest blogging

Engaging with influencers can be invaluable, but the process can be expedited by positioning yourself as a thought leader first.

Guest blogging can position you as an expert on a topic. The credibility borrowed from writing for publications such as AdWeek or Forbes will add an element of social proof. Most importantly, it puts you in front of a wider audience.

Start by identifying publications that accept contributions. Google phrases such as:

  • “[keyword] guest blog”
  • “contribute to [keyword]”
  • “[keyword] guest post”

Find the right editor and reach out to them. Provide writing examples of your previous work to cut through the noise. Once you have a conversation started, pitch some ideas to them. Do this on a regular basis and you’ll slowly become recognized as a thought leader. Not only that, you’ll generate traffic and new business leads as a result.

#6 Side project marketing

Smart marketers have begun upgrading their content marketing efforts by building resources and tools. These “side projects” act as products in their own right, often becoming integral parts of getting a job done.

Crew, a service that connects employers with freelancers, is the poster child of side project marketing. With just 3 months worth of cash flow left, they created Unsplash – a repository of royalty free photography. Leads Unsplash

The result? 50,000 visitors within 10 minutes of submitting to Hacker News. They created something people truly needed and distributed it to where they could be found. This ended up saving their startup and is still their biggest source of new customers to this day.

These results can be emulated by simply finding a simple problem to solve with a simple solution. Unsplash isn’t complicated – it’s a Tumblr theme that provides a specific service. And it’s all for free.

Look internally for an itch to scratch. This could be software that makes part of your job easier or a resource that can be depended upon.

You can also look to your clients for ideas. Find out what part of their jobs can be made easier, or even automated, with a free product or service.

When building the solution, don’t get too fancy. Keep it simple and ship it quickly. See what feedback you get and improve upon it over time. This is how you create something valuable that people come back to again and again.

#7 LinkedIn

In Q3 of 2016, it was reported that there were 465 million users on LinkedIn.

Can you still generate new leads from this massive pool of professionals? Absolutely.

Let’s start with the obvious. Make sure your profile – both personal and company – are optimized. This means that it’s 100% complete with in-depth descriptions of what you do. Check out this guide by Cision for more on how to do this.

If you’re creating content, look to Pulse. Pulse is LinkedIn’s proprietary publishing platform where users and post their own content. Republish or repurpose your existing content to get more out of what you already have. Your connections will receive a notification when you publish, meaning more eyeballs on your content.

Tap into LinkedIn groups and contribute to relevant discussions. Give advice to those asking questions. This gives you a reason to reach out to potential prospects.

Finally, test some of LinkedIn’s paid solutions. Sales navigator, for example, will recommend who to connect with and provide news on relevant organizations. This insight will help you reach out in a more personalized manner.

Perfecting your business pitch

We’ve given you several tools and approaches for attracting new leads. Once the conversation has begun, it’s your job to turn them into clients.

To talk about this process would require an entire blog post (which we’ll be creating in the near future). So to wrap things up, we’ll talk about two of the most important elements of a business pitch: storytelling and data.

Tell a clear & passionate story

Your business pitch must convince prospects that you can solve their problem. A clear story will effectively paint this picture for them.

Studies have shown that clarity will always trump persuasion. Drop the fancy language and tell your prospects exactly what they need to know. A confused prospect does not move forward.

You must also be realistic. It may feel like you can solve all of the prospects problems, but as you expand upon your original scope, things become unrealistic. And unrealistic expectations are hard to believe, so keep things simple.

As an agency, you already know the importance of storytelling. So why does it go forgotten when pitching new business?

The pitching show is often focused on specs, experience and capabilities. As a result, the story takes a back seat.

So be sure to tell a story that mesmerizes and paints a picture. Don’t just talk about the work and results. Tell the story about the journey and the destination. What will their business look like while they do business with you?

Make sure you tell this story with passion. A pitch delivered with high energy is authentic and contagious. Experts are passionate about what they know, helping you come across as more trustworthy and credible.

Use data

As important that story is, you need to backup your recommendations. Business leaders are savvy. They know that metrics are available for almost anything.

There’s a truck-load of market insight available to you. It’s your job to use this insight to back up your proposals.

For example, let’s say you were helping a brand target Major League Baseball (MLB) fans. You notice that women were being drastically underserved, and were a hot audience to tap into.

To many, this seems counter-intuitive. The majority of MLB fans are men, and so you should create a masculine messaging that attracts them.

The data, however, shows that there over 40% of fans are women: Leads MLB gender Not only that, but as you dig further, you discover that the women most likely to convert:

  • Are aged 21-25
  • Have 0-2 children
  • Have a yearly income of $100K to $124K

Using this insight, you can craft a message based on this demographic data, as well as interests such as music, actors and TV personalities: Leads MLB interests

Dig deeper and uncover the right channels and TV shows to target: Leads MLB TV shows

This insight can help you make more effective marketing and advertising messaging based on audience data. You will also back your ideas up when presenting them to your prospects and clients.

Conclusion

Tactics are nothing without a good strategy. This is why it’s important to define your true north with a central goal. When the whole organization is aware of this, everybody works towards it.

There is a recurring theme throughout all approaches mentioned in this guide. That is adding value up front.

Savvy marketers have known this for some time. It’s time agencies got on board too. No matter if you’re creating a killer piece of 10x content or building relationships with other agencies and influencers. You need to give first to get their attention.